Rome was more than a mere empire as it was a way of life. The Romans took a lot from the Greeks way of life and added much of their own, and this helped them in establishing a formidable culture. It is a culture that could not easily be avoided by the Christians who lived in Rome as they learned their literature in school, obeyed their laws, as well as seeing their structures while they walked along their streets.
The development, and ultimately the triumph of Christianity within the Roman Empire started during the 4th A.D. It is essential to understand that the 4th A.D. century was the period in history that lasted from 301 to 400. Its early part was shaped by Emperor Constantine the Great as he was the first emperor who converted to Christianity. However, in its history, the Christian Church during its early three centuries was leading a precarious existence in the Roman Empire. The Christians in Rome often faced persecution, especially from emperor Nero who mostly blamed them for setting up fire leading to the destruction of a more significant part of the imperial capital (Kelly, n.d). Although most of these persecutions were done at local levels, they set dangerous precedent.
The very last Great persecution started in 303 and continued until 305, it was regarded as the Great persecution by Christians because it had high number of victims and a longer duration. However, by 320, Constantine stopped tolerating Christians as he himself became a Christian. Licinius was not happy with this issue, a situation that prompted him in persecuting some Christians during 323, and while seizing the moment and by proclaiming himself the Christians patron, Constantine, attacked, defeated, as well as executed Licinius in 324 (Kelly, n.d). As a result, this made most Christians rejoice as it marked the end of their persecutions in Rome.
The growth of Christianity during this century was influenced by many factors including the Roman unity. During the first few centuries, the Roman Empire felt threatened by Christianity movement, a situation that led to some Christians being persecuted. Nevertheless, the growth of Christianity during this period was made possible as a result of the unification and stability of the Mediterranean that was achieved by the Romans. The Roman Empire successfully managed in unifying the whole Mediterranean into a relatively prosperous and peaceful trading system (Kelly, n.d). This unification, as well as prosperity, helped early missionaries including St. Paul to get the word out concerning the new faith.
The Roman attitude towards Christianity also facilitated the growth of Christianity during the 4th century. Christians during this period were so much not liked by the Roman Empire because Christians did not welcome Roman public festivals, publicly criticized Roman ancient traditions, as well as avoided military service and public office. Besides, the Romans had a conservative attitude towards Christianity but greatly respected their ancestors whom they regarded as being closer to their Gods and their traditional religions. Other religious movements were considered as superstitions, including Christianity which was regarded as an apostasy from Judaism. As a result, the Romans were averted to Christianity as was confounded by the Christian view that Christians alone could receive special revelation that was unknown by other religions (Kelly, n.d). Besides, this view observed that God does not care about Romans ancestors.
The triumph of Christianity during the 4th A.D. century was as well as a result of caring for the widows, the sick, and the orphans. Fires, natural disasters, plagues, in addition to devastation from war or riots were semi-regular situations in the Roman Empire cities. This is what distinguished Christians as they could quickly respond to all these frequent calamities. Instead of fleeing from the empire to escape the persistent persecutions, they instead stayed so that they could care for others and themselves. Even without the medical science knowledge, the simple act to provide water, shelter, and food to the sick significantly improved the survival rates, especially in times of widespread disease (Kelly, n.d). Besides, this also sent a strong solidarity message to the pagans who happened to be receiving a helping hand. As a result, most people shifted their regular conversions and social networks to Christianity.
The creation of a Christian Empire within the Roman Empire also influenced the triumph of Christianity. After Emperor Diocletian's abdication in 305 AD, the Christianity persecution started to diminish. Most Christians openly came out of their hiding and once again became influential, a situation that led to Emperor Constantine I being the first Roman Emperor to become converted to Christianity faith (Kelly, n.d). As a result, several people started to follow suit and became transformed as well.
The growth and ultimately the triumph of Christianity had a significant impact even after Constantine. This is because this faith continued spreading even after Constantines death, but it was still faced with conflict and difficulty. Although the Council of Nicaea was supposed to take the responsibility of solving the Arian Controversy, the debates of theology still continued. As a result, Arianism remained the most potent force in the Roman Empire that continued until the end of 4th A.D. century, partly because most of the Constantine successors, among them his son Constantius II supported Arianism (Kelly, n.d).
Additionally, Julian who was the nephew to Constantine succeeded Constantius II. He was so hostile towards Christianity because he was secretly a pagan. Once he assumed the position of Emperor, he decided to make his paganism beliefs public and made efforts of trying to return the Roman Empire to paganism. However, this was just short lived because he was killed on the battlefield and replaced by a Christian general (Kelly, n.d). This marked the end of a pagan emperor, a situation that saw Christianity gradually becoming the dominant religion as well as the cultural force within the Roman Empire.
Besides, during the 379 AD, an Arian, Emperor Valens, was killed in the war against the invasion of the Goths and was succeeded by a Roman general known as Theodosius. He was a firm believer in the Council of Nicaea, and this made him in setting out a policy to spread the Christianity of Nicene in the entire empire. Moreover, he also cracked down on the Arianism and implemented harsh laws against all the sects of Christianity he considered to be heretical (Kelly, n.d). Furthermore, he decided that the official Roman Empire religion be the Nicene Christianity. Importantly, he oversaw the closing of pagan temples as well as the passing of laws against the celebration of pagan rites.
Finally, from a personal point of view, this was not unfortunate but a good thing. It is because it made Christianity to indeed triumph over paganism, and the once hostile Roman Empire towards Christianity became a real Christian State (Kelly, n.d). Moreover, even with the collapse of the Roman Empire, its Christian legacy would still live on, as Christianity faith continued to remain central to the European culture.
Kelly, J. (n.d). THE TRIUMPH OF CHRISTIANITY IN THE ROMAN EMPIRE: THE INTERPRETATION OF CULTURES. file:///C:/Users/Peter/Pictures/Triumph_of_Christianity.pdf
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